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Cosmic Consciousness, by Richard Maurice Bucke, [1901], at


Richard Jefferies.

Born November 6th, 1848; died August 14th, 1887.

This case is given as that of a man who spent several years in what has been called above the twilight of Cosmic Consciousness but upon whom the sun did not rise. In this connection the man is an exceedingly interesting study to all those who care about the subject matter of the present volume, and the more so because he has written a book in which he gives us what is undoubtedly a straightforward and candid account of his spiritual life down to his thirty-fifth year [105]. He seems to have entered early into the twilight above referred to, and it seems probable that Jefferies would have entered into at least momentary Cosmic Consciousness at about the usual age had it not been that before that time came, when thirty-three years old, he was seized with a fatal sickness which weakened and tortured him from that time until his death, which took place in his thirty-ninth year. Be this as it may, the book named represents the highest spiritual altitude attained by Jefferies—a spiritual altitude clearly above that of mere self consciousness and as clearly below the mental status of complete Cosmic Consciousness.

The book, of course, should be read as a whole—and it will well repay perusal—but for the purposes of the present volume the passages found below must suffice.

The story of my heart commences seventeen years ago [105: 1]. I was not more than eighteen* when an inner and esoteric meaning began to come to me from all the visible universe, and undefinable aspirations filled me [105: 181].

* At eighteen years of age he enters into the twilight of the Cosmic Sense. But neither then nor afterwards present themselves any of the characteristic phenomena of entrance into Cosmic Consciousness.

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I was utterly alone with the sun and the earth. Lying down on the grass, I spoke in my soul to the earth, the sun, the air, and the distant sea far beyond sight. I thought of the earth's firmness—I felt it bear me up; through the grassy couch there came an influence as if I could feel the great earth speaking to me. I thought of the wandering air—its pureness, which is its beauty; the air touched me and gave me something of itself [105:4]. By all these I prayed; I felt an emotion of the soul beyond all definition [105:5].

I thought of my inner existence,* that consciousness which is called the soul. These—that is, myself—I threw into the balance to weigh the prayer the heavier. My strength of body, mind and soul, I flung into it; I put forth my strength; I wrestled and labored and toiled in might of prayer. The prayer, this soul-emotion, was in itself—not for an object—it was a passion. I hid my face in the grass, I was wholly prostrated, I lost myself in the wrestle, I was rapt and carried away [105:7].

Had any shepherd accidentally seen me lying on the turf he would only have thought that I was resting a few minutes; I made no outward show. Who could have imagined the whirlwind of passion that was going on within me as I reclined there! I was greatly exhausted when I reached home [105: 8].

Having drunk deeply of the heaven above* and felt the most glorious beauty of the day, and remembering the old, old sea, which (as it seemed to me) was but just yonder at the edge, I now became lost, and absorbed into the being or existence of the universe. I felt down deep into the earth under, and high above into the sky, and farther still to the sun and stars. Still farther beyond the stars into the hollow of space, and losing thus my separateness of being came to seem like a part of the whole [105:8–9].

With all that time and power I prayed that I might have in my soul the intellectual part of it—the idea, the thought [105:17]. Now, this moment gives me all the thought, all the idea, all the soul expressed in the Cosmos around me [105:18]. Gives me fullness of life like to the sea and the sun, to the earth and the air; gives me fullness of physical life, mind, equal and beyond their fullness; gives me a greatness and perfection of soul higher than all things; gives me my inexpressible desire which swells in me like a tide—gives it to me with all the force of the sea [105:103]. I realize a soul-life illimitable; I realize the existence of a Cosmos of thought [105: 51]. I believe in the human form; let me find something, some method, by which that form

* Jefferies is always longing, always aspiring, always reaching out and striving. He intensely feels that there is something infinitely desirable just beyond his outstretched hand, but he never actually touches it.

* Of such passages as these Salt [172: 53] says: "Jefferies now writes without disguise, as one who has received a solemn revelation of the inner beauty of the universe." But note especially his love of external nature is always a longing, becoming intense but never fulfilled, to become the object. But perhaps the essence of the Cosmic Sense, from the point of view of the intellect, is the realization that the subject and object are one. See supra the words of E. C. and of the Vaga-Saneyi-Samhita-Upanishad also [193: 173]: "Strange and hard that paradox true I give, objects gross and the unseen soul are one." But Gautama says that "within him there arose the eye to perceive, the knowledge, the understanding, the wisdom that lights the true path, the light that expels darkness."

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may achieve the utmost beauty. Its beauty is like an arrow, which may be shot any distance according to the strength of the bow. So the idea expressed in the human shape is capable of indefinite expansion and elevation of beauty. Of the mind, the inner consciousness, the soul, my prayer desired that I might discover a mode of life for it, so that it might not only conceive of such a life, but actually enjoy it on the earth. I wished to search out a new and higher set of ideas on which the mind should work. The simile of a new book of the soul is the nearest to convey the meaning—a book drawn from the present and future, not the past. Instead of a set of ideas based on tradition, let me give the mind a new thought drawn straight from the wondrous present, direct this very hour [105: 30].

Recognizing my own inner consciousness,* the psyche, so clearly, death did not seem to me to affect the personality. In dissolution there was no bridgeless chasm, no unfathomable gulf of separation; the spirit did not immediately become inaccessible, leaping at a bound to an immeasurable distance [105:34].

To me everything is supernatural [105: 42]. It is impossible to wrest the mind down to the same laws that rule pieces of timber [105:42].

When I consider that I dwell this moment in the eternal Now* that has ever been and will be, that I am in the midst of immortal things this moment, that there probably are souls as infinitely superior to mine as mine to a piece of timber—what, then, is a "miracle" [105:44]?

I feel on the margin of a life unknown,* very near, almost touching it—on the verge of powers which, if I could grasp, would give me an immense breadth of existence [105: 45]. Sometimes a very ecstasy of exquisite enjoyment of the entire universe filled me [105:182]. I want more ideas of soul-life. I am certain that there are more yet to be found. A great life—an entire civilization—lies just outside the pale of common thought [105:48].

There is an Entity, a Soul-Entity, as yet unrecognized [105: 48].*

Man has a soul, as yet it seems to me lying in abeyance, by the aid of which he may yet discover things now deemed supernatural [105: 144].

I believe, with all my heart,* in the body and the flesh, and believe that it

* He has the feeling of continuous life—it does not seem that he can die. If he had attained to Cosmic Consciousness he would have entered into eternal life, and there would be no "seems" about it.

* "Why, who makes much of a miracle? To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle, every cubic inch of space is a miracle" [193: 301], etc.

* He feels that he has not realized—that there is something just out of reach; his contentment is never complete or only so by flashes. On the other hand, those who have fully entered Cosmic Consciousness—upon whom the sun has risen—who have achieved Nirvâna—the kingdom of heaven—are at rest and happy. "I am satisfied," says Whitman, "I exist as I am. That is enough." "I know I am solid and sound." "I know I am deathless;" and all the fully illumined from Gautama down to E. C., both inclusive, declare the same complete fulfillment of desire.

* Yes, the Cosmic Sense which Jefferies felt but did not enter upon.

* "I believe in the flesh and the appetites. Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and p. 322 each part and tag of me is a miracle. Divine am I inside and out!"

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should be increased and made more beautiful by every means [105: 114]; that the organs of the body may be stronger in their action, perfect, and lasting; that the exterior flesh may yet be more beautiful; that the shape may be finer, and the motions more graceful [105: 29]. I believe all manner of asceticism to be the vilest blasphemy—blasphemy towards the whole of the human race. I believe in the flesh and the body, which is worthy of worship [105:114].

How can I adequately express my contempt for the assertion* that all things occur for the best, for a wise and beneficent end, and are ordered by a human intelligence! It is the most utter falsehood and a crime against the human race [105: 134].

Nothing is evolved. There is no evolution any more than there is any design in nature. By standing face to face with nature, and not from books, I have convinced myself that there is no design and no evolution. What there is, what was the cause, how and why, is not yet known; certainly it was neither of these [105: 126]. There is nothing human in any living animal. All nature, the universe as far as we can see, is anti- or ultra-human, outside, and has no concern with man [105: 62]. There being nothing human in nature in the universe, and all things being ultra-human and without design, shape, or purpose, I conclude that no deity has anything to do with nature [105: 63]. Next, in human affairs, in the relations of man with man, in the conduct of life, in the events that occur, in human affairs generally, everything happens by chance [105:64]. But as everything in human affairs obviously happens by chance, it is clear that no deity is responsible [105:66].

I have been obliged to write these things* by an irresistible impulse which has worked in me since early youth. They have not been written for the sake of argument, still less for any thought of profit; rather, indeed, the reverse. They have been forced from me by earnestness of heart, and they express my most serious convictions [105: 181]. One of the greatest difficulties I have encountered is the lack of words to express ideas [105:184].

* In these passages is positive evidence that Jefferies never really attained to the Cosmic Sense—that is, he never became conscious of the Cosmic order—the vision of the "eternal wheels" of the "chain of causation" was not granted him.

* So Blake said of "Jerusalem": "I have written this poem from immediate dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time, without premeditation and even against my will." This feeling of external or internal domination by something or somebody is common if not universal with men having the Cosmic Sense. Even as in the case of those who have entered the holy of holies, so Jefferies, though the revelation to him was far from complete, saw more than he found it easy to express in our language of the self conscious mind.

Next: Chapter 29. Case of C. M. C. in Her Own Words